A Slice Of Life To Go is an online Christian blog written by Todd Thompson. It encourages people to see the beauty in ordinary moments and to know God’s unconditional, unfailing love in everyday life.

An Untimely Word

October 15th, 2003

They are the modern version of water cooler conversations that began with, “Hey, did ya hear the one about….?” Humorous emails, some with digital pictures or video clips, forwarded to us from friends and acquaintances to brighten our day.

The subject line of this one read “Bits of Wisdom”. The list included tongue-in-cheek thoughts about health and exercise. “I am in shape. Round is a shape.” “I am a nutritional overachiever.” “Brain cells come and go, but fat cells live forever.”

Halfway down the funny list I found a genuine bit of wisdom. “The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right time, but also to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”

Working my way through graduate school I had a small cleaning business. Placing one ad in the newspaper saying I had been “trained by meticulous Grandmothers” prompted enough calls to get me started.

Occasionally, I would do “move outs”. Move outs are cleaning jobs in homes that have been vacated after being bought or sold. My job was to clean the house from top to bottom in preparation for the new occupants. One afternoon I got a phone call from a lady saying her uncle, who was in poor health, was moving into a new place. She was helping him relocate and wanted me to clean the house before he moved in. We agreed on a price and she said she would leave the key under the flower pot.

I started in the kitchen at 7:30 AM. Two hours later, I was still in the kitchen. It needed a lot of elbow grease. When I pulled the refrigerator away from the wall I found some stray Lego blocks and a red plastic dinosaur covered with so much fuzzy crud that I had to look twice to be sure it wasn’t a real fossil.

None of this should have bothered me. I was hired to clean the house. Regardless of condition, I was being paid to clean. I’d been paid to clean houses that needed nothing more than a feather dusting and I’d been paid to clean houses that needed an industrial strength power washing. This job was somewhere in between. Yet for some reason on this day I was letting these two hours in the kitchen bother me.

I was standing at the sink rinsing the dirt off the dinosaur when the lady who hired me walked through the front door. We exchanged pleasantries and some small talk. She looked around the room and said, “It was kind of a mess, huh?”

Have you ever thought to yourself, “I really don’t need to say what I’m thinking. It isn’t necessary.”…but said it anyway?

“Yeah, kind of a mess. They didn’t leave this is very good shape for you, did they?”

She paused to look at me. With awkward kindness she said, “No, …we didn’t.”

Turns out she and her husband were the owners of the house. Their family had been living there. They were moving out so her uncle could move in.

The back pedaling I did was as frenetic as it was ridiculous. “Uh, oh, it’s really not that bad. Really. I’ve seen worse. A whole lot worse. This really isn’t bad at all. I’ll be done in no time.” With every word I bore down harder on the SOS pad and made the worst of a bad situation.

She graciously excused herself and I went back to work, feeling every bit the idiot that I was. Channeling my moronic energy, I flew through the rest of the job to get out of there as soon as possible.

Remember how King Solomon taught that God rewards us when we love our enemies? That when we respond with acts of kindness we heap burning coals on their head? (Proverbs 25:21-22) When I finished the job, the lady paid me our agreed upon fee, plus a $20 tip. My head smelled like smoke for a week.

“The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right time, but also to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” When we leave the wrong thing unsaid, we’re extending anonymous kindness to others. Much better for our kindness to go unnoticed than to receive full credit for our hurtful words. I’ve never seen that kind lady again. I remember her for what she could have said, but didn’t. She likely remembers me for what I shouldn’t have said, but did.

My Grandmother used to say that in the tempting moment before speaking, it’s wise to ask yourself three questions:

Is it true?

Is it necessary?

Is it kind?

That’s a genuine bit of wisdom.

Because there’s no way to clean up spilled words.

“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person.” – Colossians 4:6